Archive | Life as a Writer

Defending My Writing Time

For the past four years, I have been getting up at 5am to write. It was a tough transition at first, getting up that early, but between working full-time, taking care of two kids, and occasionally exercising, it just ended up being the easiest time of day to consistently set aside time to write. Over the years, I have really come to love my early morning writing time.

The trouble is, I’m always exhausted. I try to go to bed early, but often end up reading until eleven. Over time, the lack of sleep starts to build up. Daniel called me out on that last night. After dinner I said “I can’t believe how tired I am.” He remarked that I’ve been saying that every night for about two months (which is, not coincidentally, when I started feeling better and resumed my writing).

Given that I am (f)unemployed right now, I got to wondering why I’m still getting up so early to write. What I realized is that it is simply my most defensible time. The kids are asleep, no one expects a call or even an email that early in the morning, there are no errands to run. I’m afraid that if I shift to sleeping in and writing after I drop the kids at school I will get distracted.

Can I block out two hours every morning and write? Or will I end up writing a blog post, dicking around on social media, planning camping trips, doing the dishes, or employing one of a hundred other procrastination tactics?

I sure would like the extra sleep. It might be worth a try.

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Thank you

My most sincere gratitude goes out to everyone who read my post on Monday and responded with so many encouraging words. In all honesty, I’ve written that post three different ways over the past few months, trying to figure out how I wanted to frame the whole thing, every time questioning whether it was even a good idea to share what I’ve been going through.

I’m so glad I did.

In addition to the posts on Facebook, I’ve had emails and IMs from friends I haven’t heard from in a long time, wishing me well and suggesting we meet up. Even my neighbor stopped me yesterday to talk. She thanked me for sharing so honestly. She said we always preset ourselves to each other as if everything is great, which not only is (sometimes) inauthentic and isolating, but also serves to present a standard of perpetual happiness that is frankly unobtainable.

The past few days have felt like a revelation. In honor of all the wonderful people in my life, I hereby promise to always strive to put my true self forward, to share honestly and revel in the fact that I have some amazing friends that are all struggling with the same shit.

If it’s at all practical for us to get together, I’ll be reaching out soon. I can’t wait to catch up and hear what the wonderful people in my life are up to.

Thank you, thank you, thank you.

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My Mid-Life Crisis (in a nutshell)

I revealed myself a bit on Friday. I am (f)unemployed.

But April, weren’t you just bragging about your great new job?

Why, yes. Yes I was.

Last March I started a new job at an engineering firm. It actually was pretty great. As far as professional writing jobs go, it was more than great, it was unbelievable. I worked four days a week, got paid a totally decent salary, and I loved the people.

The biggest downside was that I got very lonely. My office (I had my own office!) was a small windowless room. I sat there all day by myself. As nice as the people were, I had very little interaction with them. When I took the job, we had agreed that I would work from my “home” office, which is really the corner of Daniel’s office. I love it there. Daniel and I can talk and share music, and I know a lot of the other people in the building, so it’s very friendly. But working remotely didn’t work out. So I was commuting half an hour each way, to sit alone all day. I left as the kids were waking up and came home just before bedtime. It began to wear on me. If it’s one thing I cannot tolerate, it’s anything that gets in the way of my time with my kiddos.

But that wasn’t why I had to quit. Not completely.

By August, I was truly depressed. I was also drinking too much, which really wasn’t helping. It got to the point that I had to come clean to the HR lady at work. I was just sitting at my computer all day staring. Doing nothing. I figured I had to tell someone what was going on, or I was likely to get fired. She was very understanding. She insisted that I take a leave of absence immediately and take care of myself.

So I did. I was even able to get some disability pay to soften the blow financially. It’s embarrassing to apply for disability pay. All my life I’ve told myself to just suck it up, but I couldn’t any more. It was all I could do to get out of bed in the morning.

I enrolled in a treatment program at a place called Refuge Recovery here in LA. What immediately became clear was that my depression had actually begun to build in the fall of 2014 when I took a class called The Meaningful Life, taught by George Hass. It blew apart my entire sense of self, and sent me spiraling into depression. If you ever get the chance to take it, I highly recommend it.

Yes, I know that sounds ass backwards. But here’s the thing. I had been cruising along feeling pretty meh about life. My family is amazing, but everything else felt like just getting along, marching towards death. I think it’s fair to describe it as a mid-life crisis. It’s cliché, but I was overwhelmed by the sense that “there must be more to life than this.” When I took the class, which was largely meditation based, I began to understand what really mattered to me. It’s the people in my life, both family and friends. Real connections with people I love.

This realization and my super-lonely work environment were completely opposed to each other, but I didn’t think there was anything to be done about it.

To quiet the unhappy feelings, I drank, which helped temporarily, but only compounded my problems in the morning when I was too tired (or hung-over) to get up and write. I stopped writing. I stopped exercising.

That’s when things really got bad. That’s where I was when I went into the HR lady’s office and ended up taking a leave of absence.

That was five months ago. Officially, I quit in December, though I hadn’t been to work in three months by then. In my outpatient program, I dove deep into the mess that had been stirred up by the Meaningful Life class. I had a psychiatrist, two therapists, and daily group sessions. I meditated a lot.

I don’t know where I’m going from here. I quit drinking. I’m writing daily, exercising three times a week, and trying to figure out what I want to do to earn a paycheck.

Funempoyed isn’t quite the right word. I still have tough days. I’m still working through some hard shit. But the feeling that there must be more has evaporated. I feel like I’m living a life that is much more authentic to the life I had hoped to have. When I do take a job, it will be somewhere with people, doing something that I really care about. I don’t know what that is yet, but I have hope that I will figure it out. Or maybe I’ll go back to freelance (even though I said I never would). I don’t know.

I’m making an effort to spend time with a friend every day (be it coffee, lunch or going for a run), to foster real connection with the people I hold dear, share what’s going on with me and hear what’s happening in their lives. It’s not something I have a lot of practice with, which sounds odd, but it’s true.

As midlife crises go, this one is much cheaper than a sports car, and I get the sense that ten years down the road, the value will have only increased.

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My Writer’s Notebook

I carry a small writer’s notebook with me everywhere I go. It’s something I’ve done for nearly a decade, though for a long time I did it simply because I had a general feeling that I should. It wasn’t until 2010 that I got organized about it, and actually came to understand the importance of my writer’s notebook.

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For me, the value is two-fold.

First, and most important, is practice. A teacher once told me that a writer should be able to describe the weather every day using different words, even here in LA where it doesn’t change much. Describing things in a way that is effective and interesting is actually something that takes practice. So I practice.

Second, it’s material. When I’m stuck in line or waiting for my kids to finish a soccer practice or karate class, I study someone and write down everything I can figure out about them from what I see.

The trick is that having all this material isn’t much good if I can’t find it. In THEORY, when my little notebook is all full, I type it up, saving each little snippet of brilliance in a separate Word file, organized by the type of note it is. I have a folder for landscapes, character studies, smells, sounds, tastes, weather, and parenting anecdotes. I also keep a file for story ideas, so that if I’m ever stuck, I can just go look over all the amazing ideas I’ve ever had.

I say “in theory” because in practice, I’ve been filling notebooks for years and haven’t transcribed any in a long time. They are piling up and not doing me any good. So my New Years resolution is to actually get through this entire stack by the end of January. Then I can toss the actual notebooks, so that they’re not cluttering up my shelves, and hang onto all the content.

It’s actually part of a larger, unofficial resolution to stop holding onto so much junk. Maybe it was having babies, or maybe it’s just that we haven’t moved in a long time, but I feel like the stuff is piling up in my life, and I’m over it. I just want it gone. Anything that can be thrown away, recycled, or put on my lap top will be dealt with accordingly in short order.

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An Awesome Night at the Hotel Cafe

If you follow me on Facebook, you probably saw me pushing info on the Tongue and Groove reading that happened last night at the Hotel Cafe. It’s a monthly event hosted by Conrad Romo. It has officially become my new favorite literary event here in Los Angeles, and not just because I got to stand up on stage and be a part of it.

First of all, the venue is super cool. You’ve probably driven past it and not even noticed, because you have to go down a dark alley to get there. It has a certain speak easy vibe about it. If you ever have cause to check it out, you definitely should.

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But for me, the real excitement was being a part of the reading. The list of people who have been a part of this is like a who’s who of my local literary heroes, including Janet Fitch, Rita Williams, and David Frances. And after last night, I have to add Jeremy Radin. He read a handful of poems that were stunning. By far the best poetry I’ve ever heard live. Such incredible use of language, evocative imagery and honest humility is rare, especially in LA.

So it felt pretty great to be included. For my part, I’m also excited to share that for the first time, I actually had fun doing a reading. I haven’t done all so many, granted, but this was the first time that the fun outweighed the nerves. Partly it was because the piece I read (a piece titled “Butts”) is an irreverent little story, partly is was the super-cool venue, and partly it was that I had a small cheering section (thanks guys!). It was a great night.

And before I sign off, I have to give a big thanks to Janet Fitch, who introduced me to Conrad in the first place, and encouraged me to submit the story for consideration. She has been, and continues to be, an awesome mentor (and her new book should be coming out soon – I can’t wait!).

The next Tongue and Groove event is on December 8. I won’t be able to make that one, as the Rock Lake Writers Christmas party is that night, but I will catch up in the new year. Hope to see you there!

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Watch Me Turn Red

I know I am not alone in the fact that reading my work in front of crowds makes me nervous. I know this. But knowing it doesn’t make it any easier. Whenever I am faced with the exciting opportunity to read my work for a group of people I start sweating like I’m running a marathon in July.

So it’s no great surprise to me that I’m feeling a little damp in the pits. In less than a week, I will be standing up on a stage to read a short piece I wrote titled “Butts.”

Yes, “Butts.”

Over the years I have gotten better at readings, but this piece was an exercise in voice. I dug deep to find my whitest white trash roots and pour them out onto the page. It’s rude, it’s blunt, and it uses more than one word for male genitalia that I don’t think I ever say out loud, let alone in front of a large crowd.

It’ll be fun.

All I can say is thank God my parents live too far away to attend this one.

Click below for event details.
T&G

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Just Because I Don’t Get Paid, Doesn’t Mean It’s Not Work

I was chatting with a friend the other day. He’s all stressed out because he works too much and his baby girl (poor thing) was super sick. I told him I was planning on taking Labor Day weekend to work on my novel and he replied: “I vaguely remember having time for hobbies.”

Picture me as a cat, bristling and hissing.

Here’s a tip, for those of you who have friends who aspiring at anything – don’t refer to their work as a hobby.

I am willing, for the sake of our friendship, to chalk that comment up to his exhaustion, but my writing is not a hobby. Just because I don’t get paid, doesn’t mean it’s not work. In fact, one *might* argue that not getting paid shows an even greater commitment to one’s art, though I’ve never subscribed to the whole as-soon-as-you-make-money-at-it-you’re-a-sellout-not-an-artist thing. I’m not OPPOSED to getting paid, it’s just that, right now, fiction is not paying the bills.

I suppose I would accept the term “amateur” over “hobbyist,” though I do get paid as a professional technical writer. Using a sports analogy, I’m like an aspiring Olympic gymnast who helps kids on the balance beam during the day. Only I don’t have a coach, and I’m not getting any exercise, and it’s much harder to tell if I’m sticking my landings.

I’m a writer, damn it.

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Later, Laptop. Hello iPad.

Cheers BitchesWhat an amazing weekend. The party (my sister’s bachelorette, in case you haven’t been keeping up) grew gradually, starting with a couple friends Friday night. On Saturday morning we slept in, then took a hike up to this amazing lookout over the Columbia River. The rest of the guests arrived gradually over the course of the day and it evolved into a great night. But as fun as all that was, I think the best part was Sunday night, when everyone else had gone home, and we had picked up my niece and nephew. We soaked in the hot-tub, then put the kids to bed and sat up talking, just my sis and me. We tried to remember if we had done that since we started having kids – almost 8 years ago now – and decided we hadn’t. It was long over due.

And since this blog is about writing, and not how much I love partying with my awesome sister and her friends, I’d like to share the latest development in my writing life. As of this post, I have officially gone iPad only.

It’s someting I’ve been reading up on for a while. See, my laptop is getting old and a little slow, so I’ve been using my iPad more and more, and not just for research. I was seriously considering dumping the laptop all together, except that I hate the on-screen key pad. I just can’t work with that. So after some online reading, and a couple trips to Best Buy to check things out in person, I have purchased a tiny little keyboard that fits, along with my iPad mini, inside a tiny little case that fits inside my not-so-tiny purse. I can now officially work anywhere.

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The thing that finally allowed me to make the jump is the new Photos app that is replacing iPhoto. See, Internet searches and typing are one thing, but I take a lot of photos. I couldn’t fathom leaving all my photos on my laptop, or having to go through a lot of hassle backing things up regularly. Everything is still syncing, so I can’t say yet what I think of the app, but I did a time machine backup before I began the transfer, so if it sucks, I’ll just scurry back to iPhoto.

As for my writing, so far, I am using Google Drive to store my work, but I am also experimenting with different text editors. I know I may hit a wall if I ever need to work off line, but I am so rarely without Internet that I’m not terribly concerned about that. Besides, I think Google Docs has a way for me to work off line. These are things I have yet to discover.

In truth, it still feel like a bit of an experiment. If you’ve made the jump from laptop to iPad and have any wisdom on it, I’d love to hear your thoughts.

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Seven Years Down, Three to Go

I didn’t get much writing done last week. We’re in the final stretch leading up to my sister’s wedding, and I’ve been spending a lot of time on preparations. Last week, I was wrapping up plans for the bachelorette party on Friday (so excited!) and on top of that, it was my birthday.

I have mixed feelings about birthdays as of late. I’m not really one to dread getting older. I don’t even mind the wrinkles that have been slowly taking hold around my eyes or the gray hairs that catch my eye in the mirror. The thing that set me squirming last week was realizing that I am now 38, and I started working on my novel when I was 31.

And it’s not done. It’s not anywhere near done. I got some very thoughtful feedback recently, and it has made me realize I actually have a ways to go with it. So I find myself outlining, again. In my darker moments, like this morning at 5am, I seriously consider throwing the towel in. I mean, seriously, seven years. Who am I kidding?

In my more optimistic moments, I think that really these past seven years have been training. There’s that old saying that you have to put 10 years or 10,000 hours into something before you can call yourself an expert. I wouldn’t even know where to begin counting hours, but I have been a writer for seven years now, both professionally and creatively. And that’s not even counting all the dabbling and short story writing I did before I decided to take myself seriously.

After I’ve had my coffee, I can accept that maybe this first novel is training. When I’m not feeling like I want to crawl into a hole and never come out, I can see that maybe my next novel won’t take a decade, because of everything I’m learning on this one. And then I think – what if does? Would I quit? I just can’t fathom quitting. I’m a writer, this is what I do, and as much as I love my job, I am not a technical writer at heart, I’m a storyteller.

Trouble is, it’s hard to stay optimistic. I think for now I’ll forget about being positive, and just resolve to reserve judgement for another three years. If I’m ten years in and still haven’t finished a book I feel is worthy of reading, then maybe I’ll consider giving up. But for now, I trudge forward.

#writingishard

Here’s a photo I took on a research trip to the OK Corral Ostrich Farm (in 2009).

Ostrich Writing

 

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Wrapping Things Up In The Mojave

Ef Coachella. I spent this last weekend out in the desert for a little get-together that’s come to be known, among a select group of revelers, as Great Friday.

There’s a bit of back story here.

Twenty years ago, some friends decided to host a big party for everyone who wasn’t going home to visit family for the Easter weekend – they called it the Good Friday party. The statute of limitations has run out on this one, so I feel pretty safe admitting that there was a lot of drug use. It was quite a thing.

Within a few years the party had gotten pretty big, and the hosts, if you can call them that, had become pretty well-established EDM (in our day we called it “techno”) DJs. So they moved the event to the magical, permissive expanse of the Mojave and turned it into a weekend-long event. I’ll tell you, there is nothing like the way a bass beat echoes over a dry lake bed at dawn. Nothing.

In more recent years, a lot of us have become parents, which made disappearing to the desert for Easter weekend tough, unless you wanted to bring your kids out to that harsh, intoxicated environment (which I didn’t). So a few years ago the event got pushed to the weekend after Easter, and renamed Great Friday.

So that’s how the whole thing started. And now, sadly, I can tell you how it ended.

This weekend was the last Great Friday event. The organizers either have moved away to distant lands or will be moving soon, and without them there’s no music. Without music, it’s just a camp out – which is still fun, but will never be the same.

It seems an interesting coincidence in my mind that this event, which has been such a touchstone for me throughout my entire adult life, is coming to an end as I finish my first novel – a deeply personal story that is set in the Mojave. And why is it set in the Southern California desert? Because I fell in love with the place at these parties. I love the way the full moon paints the landscape in silver light. I love the way the sage bushes squeak as their thick branches blow in the wind. I love the way the light changes as the sun sneaks up on the horizon from the other side of the planet. I love shaking my bootie on a dance floor that stretches for miles. And I love, love, love my rowdy friends, who really are the best part.

I guess that’s life, though. Things change. Twenty years of partying with the same group of friends is a pretty good run. If I have one parting wish, it’s that I have managed to capture just few hints of the magic of the Mojave in my story. I guess only time will tell.

Here are some shots from the weekend:

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